Easy Strategies For Dealing With Online Negativity When You're A Business

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As a business, particularly a small one, your online persona can make or break you. While you can carefully manage your branding and messaging, it can often seem like you lose control over your image through negative comments & poor online reviews that are publicly visible to everyone. And when you have put your heart & soul into your business this can seem like the end of the world.

But don’t panic! I have put together a few tips to help you deal with the disgruntled customers and professional trolls in a way that will make you feel empowered and come out smelling sweeter than ever! Let’s go…

The Bad Review

The rise of online review platforms has made it easier than ever for businesses to leverage peer recommendations to their full advantage. With people more likely to buy a product or use a service from a business with good online reviews, it can be a great marketing tool for brands when used effectively. But there is a downside.

If you have Facebook or Google Reviews set up for your business (and you should), you are bound to get the odd bad review, even if you work tirelessly to provide value & quality for your customer. These are usually borne from one of two things: you have a customer who has not got what he / she expected, or it’s fake.

The Fakes

Let’s deal with the Fakey McFakers first. These can be written anonymously by a competitor who is hoping to bring down your star rating so they look better (a-holes), or by someone who has appropriated someone else’s Facebook account to spread some hate (lovingly known as a ‘troll’). Unless you are a business like a café or bricks & mortar retail store where you don’t track the names of your customers, these will be easily identifiable because you won’t know them, recall doing business with them, or be able to look them up in your system.

How to deal

Respond to the review politely as if it is real (acknowledge their feedback, state that you strive to provide excellent service / high quality at all times, etc.) but mention that you don’t recall doing business with them. Ask them for details such as an order or membership number so you can look up their record. If it is indeed fake, you won’t get a response (or you’ll get a very confused & bewildered response from an account owner who doesn’t know they’ve written a review for a business they didn’t use!). You can report these to Facebook or Google if you wish, who may or may not choose to remove it on your behalf, but regardless, your future customers will see that you have dealt with the feedback professionally & proactively, and that 1-Star review was very much a one-off!

The Realsies

If your poor review is from a genuine customer who has taken some kind of offense to your product or service and leapt on to a review platform to vent their frustration, rather than see this as the end of the world you can choose to see it as an opportunity to improve.

How to deal

Respond publicly & sincerely. If it is a genuine failing on your behalf, whether through a lack of quality control or a failure of process, acknowledge it and then state what you are doing to fix it.  If you know you have done everything in your power to ensure that customer has had a positive experience with your business, and through circumstances beyond your control something has not gone well, acknowledge their frustration, empathise with them, tell them what you are doing to help address the issue for them, and let them know you will keep them in the loop with any developments. Ultimately, people just want to be heard. By addressing these reviews in a public, polite manner, future customers will see your commitment to service and the respect you have for your current customers, and judge you fairly.

The Drainers

Then of course there are the cases where the customer is genuine, but has been nothing but unreasonable, and possibly rude & disrespectful to you through the whole process. There is likely nothing you could have done that would have saved you from their online evisceration, because being an asshole is their part time job. These are possibly the trickiest ones to deal with.

How to deal

Your natural reaction is always to bite back and defend yourself in these situations. Don’t. They are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one. Respond publicly, in a simple and polite manner. Tell them you are sorry that this is the experience they had with your business, and reiterate that the majority of your customers walk away feeling happy & positive. Suggest (politely) that perhaps you weren’t the product / service they were looking for, and that you wish them better success in the future. If most of your reviews are positive, your future customers won’t take too much notice of a review that is blatantly nasty and probably personal in nature.

Things to remember about reviews

  • By nature, people will generally only review your business if they have had a really great experience or a really crappy one. That’s why the majority of your reviews will be 5-Star or 1-Star. If it was average, they probably won’t bother. Just focus on providing the best quality product & highest service possible at all times, and it’s likely you won’t go too wrong.
  • Unless your reviews are blatantly fake, don’t waste your time trying to get them deleted. It’s an annoying, often futile, process and in the end it is much better to show your potential customers how proactively & respectfully you deal with negative feedback. People pay attention to this. However, after commenting on a genuine customer’s bad review, if there is a bigger conversation to be had in order to reach a resolution, take it offline into a private chat, email or phone call. Respond, but don’t air your dirty laundry if it’s avoidable.
  • If you have a few 1-Star reviews that are bringing down your average rating and you are worried about it, rally some friends or family to write a few positive reviews for you to counterbalance them. But do tell them to be genuine (it’s even better if they are or have been a customer of yours in the past!). People can smell lack of authenticity a mile off.

The Negative Comment

As a brand, being able to build your social media platforms & communities is so valuable in terms of awareness, reach & loyalty. However, social media has created a situation where everyone has a voice, and that can be problematic as a brand when in order to access the marketing opportunity that SM provides, you are also opening yourself up to constant comment & critique.

It’s almost inevitable that you will receive some negativity from a disgruntled customer, shade from a competitor, a diss from someone who didn’t like the way you styled your IG photo (or the FB article you shared, or the fact you chose the wrong form of there / their / they’re, or that your product or service is no way up to their high-falutin’ standards despite the fact they are not your target audience), or a nasty, uncalled for comment from someone you don’t know whose side-hustle is to be a complete & total f-wad to everyone all over the Internet until they become the self-proclaimed King of the F-Wads. Those people deserve some special kind of hell. For all the others, here are some strategies for dealing with the haters.

When it’s from a genuine customer with a genuine issue…

Deal with this in a similar manner to how you would deal with a bad review. Acknowledge it publicly, empathise with them over the bad experience, and offer to help resolve it. Then take it offline.

When it’s someone who has taken issue with your product or service based on their own ideals / morals / values…

These types of comments can range in severity from the passionate vegan who takes issue with your meatball recipe, to the fitness fanatic that low-level fat shames you, to the army of practically perfect parents who will virtually destroy you because you were tired and chose to give your kid Maggi 2 Minute Noodles for dinner instead of a made-from-scratch, nutrient packed, organic, raw, superfood veggie bowl (ugh).

If the comment is genuine feedback on what’s in your product or the values of your service, take it as an opportunity to address it. You might learn something you hadn’t taken into consideration. Don’t be afraid to voice your own values & ideals here either - just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means they’re not your ideal customer. Always be polite & respectful, but focus on targeting your tribe and don’t worry too much about the detractors.

If it is a middle-range jab at your product or service because it’s not up to scratch according to that particular person, thank them for their feedback and state that you have found your customers to be very happy with their purchase. You can end by saying that you are always looking for ways to improve, so their view is appreciated. And leave it at that. Don’t become defensive, just try to diffuse the situation.

If it is borderline bullying, there are a couple of things you can do. Calmly state that you do not tolerate that kind of language / behaviour on your platforms, and direct them to your online community guidelines should they wish to have a look (every brand should have these, more on that later!). Finish by saying that if they do have any constructive feedback that it is very welcome and you would love to connect and discuss. If they keep going, and the feedback is neither constructive nor warranted, you can choose to ignore it or block them.

When it is obvious, trolling behavior…

When the comment is personal in nature, nasty, and uncalled for – you can choose to ignore it dependent on the severity. That person is just trying to get a rise out of you. Don’t let them. However, when the comment breaches the platform’s (or your own) community guidelines, by including discriminatory language, actively defaming your brand without cause, personally threatening you or a member of your community, or other such hateful behavior, then you should report it, delete the comment, and block them immediately.

Things to remember about comments

  • Unless the comment is particularly offensive & a breach of guidelines, don’t delete it. It’s important that your community sees how you deal with criticism & negativity, and for the most part they will love you all the more for being a good & imperfect human. Also, deleting a comment can often add fuel to the fire of the commenter, making them feel unheard and the situation even worse.
  • Take some negative feedback as an opportunity to open a dialogue. Is there something you hadn’t considered about your ingredients or supply chain that you can take on board? A way of doing business that will streamline your processes and make the journey easier for your customers? An ethical consideration you hadn’t thought of? This is all really valuable, so try and treat is as such.
  • Try to develop some community guidelines or house rules, so your followers know what you will tolerate and what you won’t. It establishes boundaries and gives you a place to refer people if they get out of line. It’s not legally enforceable, but shows you’re serious about the online wellbeing of your staff & community.
  • Don’t encourage your community to fight your battles for you. It is common when you have built a loyal fanbase for them to take on the role of defender and protector but this will only escalate the situation, and staying silent while a comment war is being waged on your profile is the same as condoning it. Deal with the core issue / commenter as swiftly as possible, thank your followers for their support but state that you would prefer they didn’t put themselves in a situation where they could get in trouble.

So that’s some strategies for helping you deal with negativity online. Just remember to be polite, be respectful, and be honest, and you should have no problems!

Karli xx


Need more info on social media community guidelines? Links below!

Facebook Community Guidelines

Instagram Community Guidelines

Twitter Community Guidelines

LinkedIn Community Guidelines

YouTube Community Guidelines

Pinterest Community Guidelines

Snapchat Community Guidelines

Cyber Bullying Laws in Australia

If you feel you are being bullied online, please refer to ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network) for more information: https://www.acorn.gov.au/learn-about-cybercrime/cyber-bullying